A new report shows that nearly 1% of all global medicine sales are fake, putting patients' health in serious jeopardy.

This is according to researchers at the University College London School of Pharmacy and Matrix Insight, which shows the threats posed by falsified medicines. The report was commissioned by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), a pharma lobby group.

It also claims prevention of counterfeit drugs should be seen as an integral part of the global health community’s effort to improve access to effective, good quality medicines and protect public health.   

According to the report, titled 'Falsified Medicines and the Global Public’s Health', evidence suggests that 15% to 50% of anti-malarial treatments purchased in parts of Asia and Africa is counterfeit. While less developed countries are more at risk, the report says virtually all countries regularly report fake drugs, which involve the knowing misrepresentation of a drug’s characteristics and a deliberate avoidance of legally instituted regulatory processes. 

“There is already considerable convergence in the anti-falsification measures being adopted at national and regional levels to safeguard patents’ and the public’s health,” said David Taylor, professor of pharmaceutical and public health policy at the UCL School of Pharmacy. “Recent research suggests that progress has been achieved, but additional surveillance-backed, systematically-supported and globally coordinated efforts could do more to protect against falsification and improve health.”

“This is a crime against patients and poses a public health risk that can lead to treatment failure, antibiotic resistance, extended illness, disability and even death,” said Eduardo Pisani, IFPMA director general. “Reducing this threat requires heightened public awareness everywhere and co-ordinated actions – by key stakeholders such as governments, NGOs, international organisations, pharmacists, patients and industry – to protect the integrity of medicines and the well-being of those who take them.”

The report suggests that the World Health Organization should invest more in quantifying the problem and putting preventative measures in place, as well as working alongside local regulators and national and international agencies to co-ordinate surveillance and evaluative activities, facilitating policy development and contributing to professional and global public awareness and education programmes.

The future prevention of medicines falsification will demand complementary actions to improve performance at three main levels, the report added. These are: global surveillance and world-wide intelligence gathering, information sharing and policy formation; regional groups to determine tailored priorities and strategies and to foster national level co-operation; and national programmes to put in place practical efforts to enforce policies.